The Gophers football team has not had a quarterback selected in the NFL draft since 1972. The program hasn’t produced a first-team All-Big Ten or All-America quarterback since Sandy Stephens in 1961.
If my math is correct, that equates to a really long time.
The Gophers have fielded some quarterbacks best described as “good” over the years/decades, guys that were mostly reliable and competent and won occasional big games. Bryan Cupito comes to mind.
Historically, they have lacked a dynamic quarterback that gives them something special.
Their quarterback lineage serves as a necessary backdrop with news that former East Ridge standout Seth Green has given a verbal commitment to new Gophers coach Tracy Claeys.
If his commitment sticks and Green signs his letter of intent in February, the Gophers can celebrate the arrival of a highly regarded quarterback prospect, a reason for any program to toast.
Green originally committed to Oregon, but his change of heart seems to have been a mutual parting. Recruiting websites love Green’s potential, ranking him among the elite dual-threat quarterbacks nationally.
That doesn’t guarantee anything, though. Doesn’t mean Green will turn into a star, a savior, an NFL draft pick or even a starter.
Gophers fans once were giddy over MarQueis Gray and he ended his career as a wide receiver. Fans became giddy over Philip Nelson too, and that went south quickly.
Step 1 is getting them through the front door. The hard part comes next.
Whomever Claeys hires as his next offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach — likely one person handling both jobs — will be charged with developing Green and other quarterbacks better than what we witnessed under Jerry Kill.
Quarterback development became an unchecked box on Kill’s résumé at Minnesota. He fixed the defense, instilled structure and discipline, upgraded talent in recruiting and constructed a power running game.
The quarterback position lagged behind.
In five seasons under Kill, the Gophers’ national ranking in passing offense went thusly in order: 109th, 109th, 117th, 121st and 74th.
The blame for an anemic passing attack doesn’t rest entirely at the quarterback’s feet, but that position under Kill revolved more around potential than payoff. Too often the Gophers have operated from a position of weakness at quarterback.
Mitch Leidner made significant strides the second half of this season. He went from liability early to one of the few bright spots during a late slide, though his four turnovers against Wisconsin in the finale left a negative feeling.
The ultimate verdict on Leidner will come during his senior season.
Green reportedly plans to graduate high school early and enroll at the U in January in order to participate in spring practice.
A redshirt season would allow him to learn, develop and adjust to college life and a new offensive system. Regardless of his glitzy recruiting profile, Green needs time to figure things out.
He’s not riding in on a white horse to save the day.
As an East Ridge parent, I watched Green play a number of times in person. My impression of him as a quarterback: A-plus athlete, highly competitive, effective runner, strong arm but inconsistent passer.
A head coach who faced Green during his junior season at East Ridge offered a summary: “People talk about his accuracy but he threw the ball great against us. I thought he was a great quarterback. … He’s such a good runner. That’s the part that scared you more. You were hoping you were going to get into a game where you could get him to drop back and just throw. … He’s a true Division I prospect with a lot of work to do. Like any quarterback.”
That last part should be underlined.
Green has a lot of work to do. He needs to develop his skills. He has the foundation, the physical tools to be special. But potential without development means nothing.
Snagging a commitment from Green qualifies as a nice coup for Claeys. The Gophers and their fans should be excited. This is a big deal in terms of national perception.
Claeys’ choice of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach becomes critical. He can’t afford to swing and miss. Given only a three-year contract, he doesn’t have enough time to cycle through coordinators or quarterbacks.
The program’s history at quarterback has been anything but glorious. Claeys can change that narrative. A talented, athletic, highly regarded quarterback is about to walk through his door.
Let’s see what Claeys and his new staff does with this opportunity.